Feasibility study for tobacco curing project

July 21, 2022

LIVINGSTONE MARUFU

 

The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) is undertaking a feasibility study for the sector to use gas as an alternative source of energy for curing the golden leaf, Business Times can report.

In the event the project proves viable, TIMB will enforce the use of gas in the next tobacco cropping season as part of an effort to curb deforestation.

The development comes at a time when  Zimbabwe is losing more than 262 000 hectares of wood annually, accounting for between 15% to 20% of the loss.

TIMB chairman Patrick Devenish said the Tobacco Research Board has collaborated with TIMB in carrying out the feasibility study.

“…It’s to do with the cost of it  and to see if it works.

“We can’t talk about wood anymore as sustainability remains the most important thing in the sector,” Devenish told Business Times.

TIMB  spokesperson, Chelesani Moyo said the board was  already courting gas-technology companies to partner  the tobacco sector regulator to set a centralised gas curing facility for tobacco.

“Such a facility should allow for multiple farmers to cure their tobacco at the same time,” Moyo said.

She added: “This is one of the sustainable curing initiatives which we are considering as a board.

“Sustainable tobacco production is the efficient production of quality tobacco, under conditions that limit the negative impact on the environment. This also entails the best agricultural practices that improve the socio-economic conditions of tobacco growers and communities in tobacco-producing areas.”

Multiple experts and farmer organisations representatives said a centralised gas curing system was the way to go as this will reduce costs.

Zimbabwe Tobacco Association chief executive Rodney Ambrose told Business Times that the regulator has come up with a brilliant  idea.

He, however, said more has to be done to ensure the gas system does not eat into the farmers’ already thin margins.

“Obviously,  TIMB would not  give gas  to  individuals but will use  centralised  gas curing systems  where  various farmers could utilise it and that way costs will go down.

“If the board and the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Ministry could ensure that there are as many centralised curing systems in tobacco curing areas that may improve sustainability growing of tobacco,” Ambrose said. Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Shadreck Makombe, told Business Times that sustainability remained a topical issue in the  tobacco  sector.

“This is a wonderful idea considering that due to climate change effects wood was no longer sustainable and it was a matter of time before operations could stop due to lack of source of energy.

“Considering that gas is quite expensive in Zimbabwe , a centralised system is key, but there is a need  for authorities to start exploring gas locally so that we can have cheaper gas in Muzarabani  and that way the transition will be very easy.

“As I see it, with the current environment, only established farmers could afford  gas at a time when the majority of our tobacco farmers are small-scale who still use firewood to cure tobacco,” Makombe said.

Zimbabwe’s policy of promoting small-scale production has accelerated deforestation as farmers indiscriminately cut down trees to cure the golden leaf.

Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s fourth  largest foreign currency earner after gold, diaspora remittances and platinum.

 

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